Mr. Williams to Mr. Seward
Sir: Since the date of my despatch No. 5, I have received Nos. 135 to 142, inclusive, addressed to Mr. Burlingame, with several recent proclamations issued by the President, and notification of June 2, from the State Department, respecting passports. All their directions have been attended to.[Page 475]
The progress of the insurgents in the south of Chihli province, spoken of in that despatch, has been greatly checked by the decisive measures taken by the government. The banditti have retired to the mountainous regions of Honan, and large numbers of their adherents have dispersed among the population. In such risings the imperialists often cause the continuance of these bands, and aggravate their excesses, by the harsh measures they adopt against their prisoners, whom the laws sentence to death. Having no knowledge of the plan of exchanging prisoners, and quite unable to detain them for any length of time, the government either banishes or puts them to death. This severity provokes retaliatory measures from the insurgents who both torture and kill their prisoners; and thus the barbarities on both sides provoke and prolong the evils of misrule and brigandage.
The imperial government issued directions in July last to the captain generals of the Manchu Bannermen and other officials, to apportion unoccupied lands among the poor families of this force, and, having settled them upon their lots, to withhold all pensions in future, and leave them to their own efforts. Those stationed in garrison in the provinces are allowed to leave their banner for any pursuit whatever they like, and every privilege belonging to native Chinese is allowed to them. The edict is apparently the first step towards completely disbanding this large body of idlers, whose inefficiency has been proved upon many occasions, and whose expense is becoming intolerable. The numbers who have availed themselves of the new regulations are not great in this region; but as the government has the card in its own hand, and nothing to fear from a rising of these useless idlers, it may ere long take more decisive measures, withhold the present pittance and disband the garrisons. The number of Manchu troops in this city drilled on the foreign system does not exceed 4,500 at present, with about 2,000 more at Tientsin; while in 1825 the rank and file of the Manchu force in this province was 131,500 men, and including their families, must now exceed 200,000 people supported for no useful purpose. Though it would be somewhat hazardous, and even cruel, to scatter this body immediately, the edict now issued shows that its dispersion and utilization have forced itself on the attention of the rulers.
It may interest you to learn that the Russian minister has lately received a telegraphic apparatus which he has had put up in his legation, and has exhibited the mode of operation to Prince Kung and other high officials. They practiced the transmission of short sentences in Chinese, and the Prince afterwards expressed himself gratified with what he had seen, and thanked Mr. Vlangaly very politely for the trouble he had been as in exhibiting the telegraph. The Chinese spoken and written languages are poorly adapted for conveying messages by telegraph, but experience and science will doubtless be able to overcome the obstacles of numerous dialects and puzzling characters, so as to accurately transmit messages across the empire. The safety of the wire itself, amid a superstitious and ignorant people, is likely to be a greater obstacle to its success.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.